Iberia: Tax Hikes on Saturday!

   
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If you live in Iberia Parish, you may have upwards of SEVEN taxes on your April 27, 2024 ballot! That’s right, SEVEN! If you’re confused, we can help you boil it down.

Property Taxes

The seven (7) possible tax measures that may appear on your ballot include five (5) property taxes and two (2) sales tax initiatives. Property taxes, or Ad Valorem taxes as they are commonly referred to, are taxes based on the value of your property. These taxes are determined by a “millage rate,” with a mill equivalent to 1/10 of one cent. So, for every thousand dollars of assessed property value, each mill will require you to pay $1.00.

There are some Constitutionally established millages, such as:

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But don’t be misled into believing that those are the maximum or static millage rates, as the Constitution (Art. VII, § 23) allows the government to “roll forward” millage rates to ensure they can rake in additional monies when property values increase or maintain the same amount of revenues when property values decrease. And for those of us who don’t own real property and instead rent, don’t for one second think that property taxes don’t affect you. You can rest assured that when taxes increase, that cost is passed on to you by your landlord.

In addition to constitutionally created millages, there are also statutory millages and voter-approved millages. The large majority are voter-approved millages, which only exist through the vote and approval of the voters. That is mostly what you are seeing on your ballot. Presently, most residents in Iberia Parish are paying seventeen (17) or more separate millages.

IBERIA AD VALOREM TAX MEASURES ON THE BALLOT

For the April 27, 2024, election, you will vote on at least four Ad Valorem taxes. If you live in the Village of Loreauville, make it five. They are as follows:

  • A special tax renewal of 2.11 mills on all property subject to taxation in the Parish (an estimated $1,244,458 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) for 10 years, beginning with the year 2025 and ending with the year 2034, to acquire, construct, improve, maintain, or operate the Parish’s public health units and other related public health activities.
  • A special tax renewal of 4.76 mills on all property subject to taxation in the Parish (an estimated $2,807,405 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) will be imposed for 10 years, beginning with the year 2025 and ending with the year 2034, to acquire, construct, improve, maintain, or operate public buildings in the Parish.
  • A special tax renewal of 4 mills on all the property subject to taxation in the Parish (an estimated $2,359,163 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) for 10 years, beginning with the year 2025 and ending with the year 2034, to construct, improve, maintain, or operate drainage facilities in the Parish.
  • A special tax renewal of 4.5 mills on all the property subject to taxation in the Parish (an estimated $2,625,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year) for 10 years, beginning with the year 2025 and ending with the year 2034, to acquire, construct, improving, maintain, or operate public libraries in the Parish.
  • And for the folks of Loreauville – a special tax renewal of 7 mills (the “Tax”) on all property subject to taxation in the Village (an estimated $28,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year) for 10 years, beginning with the year 2025 and ending with the year 2034, to improve, maintain, and operate sewerage works for the Village.

But it doesn’t stop there…

There could also be up to two (2) sales tax measures on your ballot. Most of us are more familiar with sales tax rates and how they operate. We pay these every day when we make purchases of regular household items.

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Sales tax rates fluctuate depending on where the purchase is made, with the state collecting 4.45% on every purchase. Those rates currently range from 9.45% of every purchase in the City of New Iberia to 7.7% in unincorporated areas of the parish.

Both of the two sales tax items that may appear on your ballot are NEW TAXES. They are:

  • A sales and use tax of 3/4% (the “Tax”) (in the unincorporated areas of the parish) (an estimated $4,800,000 reasonably expected to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year) for 10 years, commencing July 1, 2024, in accordance with Louisiana law, with the proceeds of the Tax to be dedicated and used to construct, improve, and maintain roads and streets within the District.
  • A sales and use tax of 0.25% (the “Tax”) (an estimated $4,000,000 reasonably expected to be collected from the levy of the Tax for an entire year), in perpetuity, commencing July 1, 2024, in accordance with Louisiana law, with the proceeds of the Tax to be dedicated and used to pay costs and expenses of operating and supporting the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office

The second sales tax proposition listed above is the Tommy RomeroFOREVER AND FOR ANYTHING TAX.” We have good reason to call it that. Romero’s tax is “perpetual” or has no end date. Additionally, despite all the talk about it being used for Deputy salary and benefits, it is not dedicated to that specific purpose. It can be used on anything!

Tommy’s Tax

We started investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding Tommy’s Tax back in January. At that time, our office was bombarded with calls, text messages, and emails regarding the possibility of a $4 million tax increase for the Sheriff amidst allegations of funds being improperly handled and not being reported to the District Attorney or the Legislative Auditor. It would be months before we received a single response from the Sheriff.

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We pointed out in our follow-up that there can be “no trust without transparency.” Now, based on the recent response from the Sheriff regarding our outstanding public records request, we don’t expect to get any further information UNTIL AFTER THE TAX ELECTION! These are the tactics we are all too familiar with. It wasn’t so long ago that the Lafayette DDA put a tax proposition on the ballot in April, the same week as Festival International in downtown Lafayette, and then indicated it would not be providing any records in response to our request until AFTER THE ELECTION. Weaponizing public records responses is nothing new. Unfortunately, some people in our state don’t think they should have to provide the public with any information. How sad is that?

19 Deputies short

But there are some things we can glean from Romero’s arguments. Sheriff Romero claims he is nineteen (19) deputies short of his allocated one-hundred seventy-six (176) positions. That is a vacancy rate of 11%. As it turns out, Lafayette Sheriff Mark Garber also has a vacancy rate of 11%. Despite the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office being one of the agencies Romero claims he is losing people to due to them offering higher pay, according to records recently provided Garber has eighty-three vacant positions out of seven hundred and seventy-nine allocated positions.

So, is low pay really to blame for Romero’s claim that he can’t recruit and retain employees? If you subscribe to that theory, what is the explanation for why Sheriff Garber, who offers higher pay and more training, better benefits, and equipment, cannot fill his eighty-three vacancies?

We know more than we did last week

Even though we have not received any additional records from Sheriff Romero since our last article concerning the Sheriff and his tax measure, we did learn something that tends to show a level of dishonesty and manipulation by Sheriff Romero. As we pointed out previously, Sheriff Romero took office in July 2020, and from July 2020 through March 2021, “discrepancies” in accounting for funds totaling over $17,000 were discovered. Romero opted to conduct an internal investigation instead of calling in an outside agency, all the while failing to notify the Legislative Auditor or the District Attorney that there had been a misappropriation of his agency’s public funds or assets. Then, in June of 2022, the financial auditors remarked: “The Sheriff has concluded his investigation, which did not disclose any evidence of misappropriation.”

As it turns out, a criminal act related to misappropriating public funds was likely committed, which Romero was possibly attempting to conceal.

In recent responses from Attorney Andy Shealy, Counsel for Romero and also an Assistant District Attorney in Iberia Parish, Shealy acknowledged the existence of a pending criminal investigation. This occurred on multiple occasions in response to the following request:

  • Any and all reports related to the “discrepancies” in inmate trust accounts between July 2020 and March 2021, including but not limited to the initial report.
  • The complete disciplinary, Internal Affairs, and/or IAPro files for Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Deputy/employee Angela Simon, including, without limitation, all documents concerning complaints, investigations, and/or findings.

In responses which were received on April 12, 2024; April 19, 2024, a second response on April 19, 2024 and on April 23, 2024 Romero’s attorney cited the exact same public records exemption stating that such records either were or were likely to be exempt from disclosure pursuant to La. R. S. 44:3 A(1) pertaining to pending criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated, until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.” Despite this exemption being asserted it doesn’t apply to the initial report, which is absolutely and unequivocally a public record. When will we receive the initial report? We suspect sometime after the Saturday, April 27, 2024 election. But the cat is already out of the bag. The best way to keep from being caught in a lie is not to lie in the first place!

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